Hsieh Pao-tsu (謝寶足), who has worked at the Ministry of Economic Affairs for more than 30 years, has an unusual sideline: Rescuing abandoned rabbits.
Ten years ago Hsieh said she adopted a pet rabbit that became ill.
It was then she discovered that few vets in Taiwan could treat the animals, so she resolved to head a newly established group tasked with saving stray rabbits, she said.
Fellow volunteers at the Taiwan Stray Bunny Protection Association described Hsieh as a tireless worker who, after a 12-hour day at the ministry, is at the association by 7pm every day.
When asked if she ever gets tired, Hsieh stroked the rabbit sitting in her lap, smiled and said: “Never.”
Hsieh recalled rescuing one rabbit last year from a building that partially collapsed on Aug. 8 during Typhoon Soudelor.
When the owner, a 75-year-old military veteran, said he did not have the energy to continue taking care of the rabbit the association agreed to take it in, she said.
The volunteers sometimes struggle to determine whether a case is legitimate or someone is trying to take advantage of the center to abandon a pet, she said.
“We have to do what we can to not to respond to false reports, to be smart animal rescuers,” Hsieh said.
She said there are often no rescues to deal with, so she uses that time to talk to aspiring first-time pet owners, adding that she starts those conversations by describing the negatives of owning pets.
“I try to prevent unrealistic expectations about owning pets,” Hsieh said.
Rabbits are cheap to feed, so they are favorites among students, but many later abandon them when they graduate and start work, she said.
Couples that buy rabbits together also tend to abandon them if they separate, Hsieh said, adding that she attempts to instill a sense of responsibility in prospective pet owners.
Hsieh said she also teaches potential owners about how to care for rabbits.
They need unlimited amounts of fresh water and grass, but limited amounts of food, and they should be kept warm in the winter with a heater and cool in the summer with a fan, she said.
Hsieh said she advises first-time owners to consider adopting a rabbit rather than buying one from a store.
Hsieh has rescued at least 100 rabbits over the past 10 years, she said, adding that she would be happy to continue helping rabbits for many years to come.